Read A Lot, Write A Lot, by Using My Chip Away System
Stephen King in his famous writing memoir On Writing gives aspiring writers keys for success:
You need to read a lot and write a lot.
Sound advice. Aspiring, beginning, and every seasoned writer needs immersion in story, language, and syntax. And constant practice of craft by writing their butts off.
Read a lot and write a lot.
But how? We’re busy people with day jobs, responsibilities, and a plethora of time consuming events expected in life under the sun. Is King delusional and speaking through the lens of a full-time writer who gets paid to read and write?
Maybe King is unrealistic, maybe not? I don’t think he’s only thinking about the full-time writer with extra spare time for reading piles of books and extra hours to crank out novels. King read a lot and wrote a lot long before he made a nickel from his work. Still does from what I can tell (70+ books in print).
Many of my writer friends complain they never read (regardless if they write full time, or not). They say it’s because they’re writing all the time, busy, usual life stuff. But is that the entire narrative? Is there something deeper under the surface?
If we believe reading and writing a lot is the key to success. If we believe growing in the craft of writing entails studying the art of others come before.The path for becoming a prolific reader and writer requires one simple shift of mindset.
Reading a lot and writing a lot is a game of math.
Someone says: I don’t have enough time to read.
I ask: Can you read a page a day?
In one year you’ll have read a good sized novel of 365 pages. What if you got crazy and read 2, 3, 4, or maybe 5 pages per day?
If you’re one of the crazies who read five pages per day, that’s 1,825 pages per year. Equivalent of 5–6 good sized novels, or 8–10 shorter works and/or non fiction books.
You see my point. Only math, and math doesn’t lie. Only reveals what’s true.
I don’t think busyness plagues our anemic reading and writing habits. We’re all busy and have the same time in the day.
On average I read 50–70 books a year not because I’m a speed reader. Not because I have forty extra hours a week set aside for leisurely reading in the park.
I harness the power of math. I chip away a little each day. Not only do I chip away at reading books, I chip away at multiple writing projects.
I’ve written on this subject before in my system for reading. So here is what it might look like:
1. I read a book for the soul/heart. A spiritual book.
2. I read a book for fun and enjoyment. Often a novel.
3. I read a book for research. This book related to my next article or book project.
4. I read a book related to work. A book to help solve a problem, or become a better leader, etc.
5. I also love reading books on the writing craft.
So let’s say I’m reading these five types of books mentioned above. How do I get through them?
I read one book first thing in the morning. Typically the spiritual book. This usually is about 10–20 pages of reading.
I keep up this habit until the book is done. A 20–30 day completion date depending on size and depth of book.
But here’s where it gets fun. I chip away at the other four books throughout the day and week. How?
I read 1–5 pages of the other books. It might be during my lunch hour, when I have a few minutes waiting for an appointment, using the men’s room:), or listening to a book on audio during my commute.
Do 5–15 minutes of reading on these books throughout the week and in a couple months you’re finishing them.
When you finish your morning read. Replace it with one of the other four you’re chipping away at. Rinse and repeat.
The beauty of Kindle and smartphones are you can have access to books anytime and any place. A few minutes here, and a few minutes there, and before you know it. I’ve made progress through 4–5 books every six weeks. At the end of the year 50–70 stories, novels, non fiction works, and articles completed. No problem.
I know a friend who uses the same method and cranks through 200 books a year.
It’s not about speed reading and mass amounts of free time. It’s all about chipping away in small chunks for a long period.
Think marathon, not sprint.
Let’s apply the same process to writing. Here’s how it works:
Choose one longer project that’ll get most of your word count.
Choose 3–4 other writing projects for chipping away. For me: two articles per week, non fiction book in the works, fiction, and one future project.
Chip away at the shorter projects. I might throw out a couple hundred words for an article over a few days. By the end of the week I’ll have two articles to publish.
Longer book projects will be chipped away a few hundred words at a time.
The chipping away on these projects only take about 5–15 minutes on any given day. What are the results?
When I complete a longer project, like a book, I’m ready to start the next one. I’ve already done some outlining, maybe written a chapter or two, and now the project that was being chipped away, becomes the main work.
I keep chipping away a few hundred words at a time. A few minutes a day. Before long, many articles and books are written in a year span.
I know many writers who do fifteen minute sprints of writing and crank out 700 words. Do that every day and produce 255,500 words a year.
Math, all math.
Chip away at your reading. Chip away at your writing and you’ll be amazed at your creative output each year.
My way is my way. But if you apply this method of chipping away to your reading and writing you’ll be on the path of enhancing your reading, growing in your writing craft, and living a more fulfilling creative life.
Who knows? Maybe you’ll be the next Stephen King…
It’s worth a try.
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